How To Prepare for a Cyclocross Race
By: Tyler Stein, MSE Exercise Science and Regional Manager for Saris Cycling Group
Cyclocross has become one of the most popular cycling disciplines in part because of how spectator friendly it is, along with the unique demographic of riders that 'cross brings together. Every rider has their own take on how to get ready for a cyclocross race - the following are just a few suggestions that may help.
Traditionally I spend the evening before a race cooking and packing. I typically make a generous meal, trying to avoid any heavy or rich sauces. For the meals I prep for race day, I focus on making meals that are easy to eat, easy to store and are crazy tasty. If you have time read the Feed Zone Cookbook by Biju Thomas and Allen Lim, there are plenty of portable meals for race day in there. After eating dinner, it is my ritual to spread all of my clothes on the floor and begin the packing and repacking my race bag, as well as making sure I have enough water and electrolyte mix.
Packing for 'Cross
Keep in mind cyclocross is a fall and winter sport, so being more prepared is always better than not. Temperatures can and will change throughout the day. You’ll likely experience cooler temperatures in the morning, maybe cresting up to 40 degrees later in the day.
With temp fluxes like this, it is important to bring extra clothes including: Thermal skinsuit, cycling jacket, bibs, jersey, leg warmers, arm warmers, a warm hat, regular socks, thermal socks, thermal or wind proof shoe covers, medium gloves, cold weather gloves, a neck gaiter, a wind vest and safety pins for pinning numbers. I cannot stress having thermal gear enough (gloves, socks and booties) as they will save you the pain of any degree of frostbite. This list is a lot to bring in just clothes alone, but keep in mind that here in Wisconsin, November and December racing often means freezing temperatures and snow.
Embrocation is important to bring too, but keep in mind wind chill factors with embrocation. For instance, if temps are around 40 degrees Fahrenheit with a 20mph wind - that is still enough to freeze your skin.
In short, ensuring that you are warm at the race, before, on your warm-up and after can, in some cases, make or break your race.
Day Of: Pre-Race Routine
Most race days I arrive early enough to get my area set-up near my car or my team’s tent. I drive to races with all of my cycling gear on so that the changing part is basically out of the way. The biggest tip I have for race day is have your trainer or rollers set-up ahead of time, so that all you have to do is pull them out of your car and be ready to go. This is important because cyclocross is a balance of timing your warm-up and scouting the course.
The course pre-ride should be done about 90 minutes before your race, depending on your local race schedule. Pre-riding the course will give you a very good feel for the course and its conditions. While out on pre-ride try to get in one lap slow and one lap taking some sections at race speeds. It is important to near race speeds because taking a hairpin, dirt corner at a soft pedal is different than at race pace. While out on pre-ride or in your warm-up area it is important to drink fluids as well as get in any calories that you need. After all, you don’t want to have a bad race because you forgot to eat or drink.
Once I get back to the team tent I will start my warm-up usually about 45 minutes out from when I’ll be toeing the line. It is important to start your warm-up close enough to race time so that your body doesn’t start to cool back down before the race start. While in the team tent if the rollers with the mag bar are open I hop on those (because I am a bit of a rollers snob). However, if the rollers are in use I’ll throw my bike in a Fluid2 since it will accommodate my 142mm thru axle. For the warm-up I put in the head phones and start staring at my Joule GPS+, looking at my power numbers. A typical warm-up for me will be 30 minutes, starting in Zone 1 and working up to but not going over Lactic Threshold power levels - you want to open the legs up not burn them out.
With about 15 minutes to go before start time I have gotten in the habit of double checking my tire pressure making sure the PSI is right where I want it. I will take one last sip of water, then while sitting near the start area I will do a few starts where I sit on my bike imagining the start and clip in to get a few crank revolutions in to simulate a 'cross start.
Ready? Set. Go!
The last five to ten minutes before the start can’t seem to come quickly enough. Then suddenly the officials start to stage all the riders, you strip off the last few layers you may have on to stay warm, the whistle blows and the race is on.
Bottom line? Get out there and have fun. After all, the history of cyclocross is costumes, beer, tomfoolery and camaraderie.